Semi-secret history of ‘Twilight’: How an Arizona mom wrote 1 of the biggest YA books ever

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Nearly 20 years ago, a mom of three living in Glendale, Arizona, woke up from a dream about an average teenage girl and a “fantastically beautiful” vampire boy talking about their budding romance in a meadow.

Over the course of three months, in between shuttling her sons to their summer activities, a then-unknown Stephenie Meyer — a Chaparral High School and Brigham Young University graduate who’d grown up in Phoenix — wrote the story of how those two characters fall in love despite the bloodlust that consumes Edward Cullen, an immortal 17-year-old who was attending high school in Forks, Washington, where Bella Swan had moved to live with her father.

Despite Meyer’s doubts about the story ever seeing the light of day, book publishers and moviemakers alike quickly saw the potential in this fantasy love story: In December 2003, Meyer signed an unprecedented book deal with Little, Brown Children’s Books. Her debut novel, “Twilight,” was published on Oct. 5, 2005; “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn” were released in quick succession over the next three years.

The series became an international bestseller, with more than 160 million copies sold as of 2021, according to Publishers Weekly. The books spawned five movies, which grossed $3.4 billion worldwide, according to IMDB’s Box Office Mojo.

And it all started with “a very vivid dream” one hot summer night in Arizona.

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'Twilight' was written in three months

On June 2, 2003, Meyer woke up from the dream that started it all.

As she tells it on her website, “I didn’t want to lose the dream, so I typed out as much as I could remember, calling the characters ‘he’ and ‘she.’”

She finished the first draft in late August and eventually found names for her protagonists: Edward, inspired by “Jane Eyre’s” Mr. Rochester and Mr. Ferrars in “Sense and Sensibility,” and Isabella, the name Meyer had been reserving for a daughter.

Googling helped her find names for her other old-fashioned immortal characters and a place for them to live: “someplace ridiculously rainy.”

Stephenie Meyer, pictured here in 2005, was a stay-at-home mom in Glendale, Ariz., when her debut novel, u0022Twilight,u0022 published on Oct. 5, 2005.
Stephenie Meyer, pictured here in 2005, was a stay-at-home mom in Glendale, Ariz., when her debut novel, u0022Twilight,u0022 published on Oct. 5, 2005.

“It was your typical Arizona summer, hot, sunny, hot and hot, but when I think back to those three months, I remember rain and cool green things, like I really spent the summer in the Olympic Rainforest,” Meyer wrote on her website.

At her sister Emily’s urging, Meyer soon started researching publishers and literary agencies who might share her story because “I loved my characters so much, and they were so real to me, that I wanted other people to know them, too.”

She received several rejections. Her lucky break came when Genevieve Gagne-Hawes — who was then an assistant and now a book editor at the New York-based agency Writers House — plucked Meyer’s query letter out of a slush pile and wrote back asking to read the first three chapters.

More:Stephenie Meyer hints at more 'Twilight' books, reveals new facts about series' Phoenix ties

How Stephenie Meyer landed an unprecedented book deal

Gagne-Hawes liked what she saw and requested the full manuscript. About a month later an agent, Jodi Reamer, expressed interest in representing Meyer’s book. At that time, it was titled “Forks.” After a couple of weeks of polishing the manuscript, they sent it off to nine publishers right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The following Monday, Megan Tingley, who is now the president and publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at Hachette Book Group, reached out with “a preemptive deal so huge that I honestly thought Jodi was pulling my leg,” according to Meyer's website.

Reamer turned it down and asked for more, eventually landing Meyer a three-book deal with Little, Brown totaling $750,000, less than half a year after she first conceptualized the story. This was reportedly the most the publishing house had paid a first-time author.

Tingley shared what she saw in “Twilight” that made it impossible to ignore in a 2011 interview with Big Think.

“I did have a distinct feeling when I read it — my heart was racing, and my mind was reeling. The scenes came alive for me in such a way that I felt I was right in the action with the characters. And I could see it as a book immediately,” Tingley said.

“There was never any doubt or hesitation on my part that the first novel would be successful, but obviously I couldn’t have predicted the extent of that success.”

The Merritt Island Barnes and Noble store stocks up on u0022Twilightu0022 books on July 26, 2008, ahead of the release of u0022Breaking Dawnu0022 on Aug. 2, 2008.
The Merritt Island Barnes and Noble store stocks up on u0022Twilightu0022 books on July 26, 2008, ahead of the release of u0022Breaking Dawnu0022 on Aug. 2, 2008.

“New Moon,” the sequel to “Twilight,” was published in August 2006. The third and fourth books, “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn,” came in quick succession in August 2007 and 2008, respectively.

The books didn't just make an impact on the years they published; they're some of the most-read novels over the span of 17 years.

“Twilight” takes fifth place among the 150 best-selling print books between 2004 and 2021, according to Publishers Weekly, which used data from NPD BookScan. It sits just below the final two “Harry Potter” books, “Fifty Shades of Grey” — which, ironically, was initially written as a “Twilight” fanfiction — and Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

"Breaking Dawn" is 11th, "New Moon" is 13th and "Eclipse" is 16th on that list.

More:Stephenie Meyer revealed what's next for 'Twilight' series in surprise chat with fans

Phoenix booksellers were among the first to champion ‘Twilight’

Before it sold 160 million copies around the world, “Twilight” was a promising forthcoming book from a new local author, and metro Phoenix's Changing Hands Bookstore was eager to have the title in stock when it came out in October 2005.

Faith Hochhalter, the book buyer for the children’s section at the time, had already purchased copies of “Twilight” for the store from a catalog of upcoming releases when Cindy Dach — who is now CEO of Changing Hands — gave her an advance reader copy.

Hochhalter took it home and “devoured it” that night, she told The Arizona Republic.

“I was just like, ‘This is it,’” she said. “I brought the book to work, and I laid it on Cindy's desk, and I was like, ‘This is amazing. We need to set stuff up for (Meyer).’”

They arranged a promotional event for “Twilight,” which took place at Changing Hands in Tempe on Oct. 17, 2005, nearly two weeks after the book was published. Dach remembers about 30 to 40 people, most of whom were Meyer’s friends and family, in attendance listening to her read from the book and discuss the story.

But the atmosphere was different than most first-time authors’ readings.

“The book had just come out, but people were holding copies with pages that were turned down and marked,” Dach recalls. “Everybody was gripped. Everybody was engaged. Everybody who was there loved this book with a passion that you don't typically see at an event for an author for a first time.

“You just knew something was happening. It just kept spiraling in bigger and bigger ways.”

Changing Hands hosted Meyer again for a writers panel in August 2006, when “Twilight” was “catching fire,” as Dach described it. She remembers hundreds of people showing up for that event.

Stephenie Meyer, left, hands Emily Boyd a signed copy of "New Moon" during a "prom" promotional party held on ASU's campus in May 2007.
Stephenie Meyer, left, hands Emily Boyd a signed copy of "New Moon" during a "prom" promotional party held on ASU's campus in May 2007.

Meyer and the bookstore continued to collaborate on promotional events over the years, including an “Eclipse”-themed prom at Arizona State University’s gym in May 2007. A thousand fans attended across two days to meet Meyer, dance and celebrate the release of a special edition of “New Moon.”

Meyer promoted the release of "Eclipse" with Changing Hands, though her popularity necessitated a bigger venue than the bookstore (think high school auditorium). Most recently, in 2016, Changing Hands hosted Meyer in conversation with Rainbow Rowell at Mesa Arts Center for Meyer’s adult thriller, “The Chemist.”

How ‘Twilight’ fans honored Meyer’s ties to Phoenix

Changing Hands thus became a go-to destination for all things “Twilight.” Meyer autographed innumerable books for the store over the course of the series and beyond, and Hochhalter personally transported boxes full of signed “New Moon” copies back and forth between the bookstore and Meyer’s home in 2006.

Then Meyer named Hochhalter and the bookstore in her acknowledgements for “Eclipse,” which published on Aug. 7, 2007, cementing Changing Hands as what Dach called a pilgrimage destination. She can still recite the line from memory 15 years later.

“Every writer needs an independent bookstore for a friend; I’m so grateful for my hometown supporters at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, and especially to Faith Hochhalter, who has brilliant taste in literature,” reads the final page in the 2007 book.

Changing Hands Bookstore and Faith Hochhalter are included in the acknowledgments of Stephenie Meyer's 2007 novel "Eclipse," photographed on Nov. 14, 2022, in Tempe.
Changing Hands Bookstore and Faith Hochhalter are included in the acknowledgments of Stephenie Meyer's 2007 novel "Eclipse," photographed on Nov. 14, 2022, in Tempe.

“Never before had our store experienced the YA community loving a book in the way that it physically manifested,” Dach said.

That fan love extended to Hochhalter, who left Changings Hands in 2008. She was known at the time as the Book Babe and championed up-and-coming local authors in the young adult genre. Now, she works for Local First Arizona as an operations specialist.

In 2009, Meyer was one of 40 authors who lent their star power to the Project Book Babe fundraiser, which had been started to help Hochhalter with her medical bills after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s been cancer-free since 2010. And though she and Meyer have lost touch over the years, she remains fond and supportive of the author.

New and used copies of the Twilight saga for sale at Changing Hands Bookstore on Nov. 14, 2022, in Tempe.
New and used copies of the Twilight saga for sale at Changing Hands Bookstore on Nov. 14, 2022, in Tempe.

“My friendship with Stephenie means a lot to me,” Hochhalter said. “It was Stephenie and the ‘Twilight’ fandom that really rallied for that fundraiser. Stephenie’s a very kind person, and I definitely am super excited for her that the books were as popular as they were and the movies were, again, super popular.”

Movie producer saw ‘Twilight’ as ‘Romeo and Juliet with a vampire’

Though Meyer didn’t know it at the time, it wasn’t just book publishers who saw potential in “Twilight” before it had even hit the shelves.

Greg Mooradian was a fledgling producer looking for a film that would jump-start his career when he first encountered “Twilight” in 2003. He was reading two to three book manuscripts each day, mining what was at the time a relatively untapped young adult genre for stories to adapt into movies, when a book scout sent him a memo about the manuscript that was being shopped around to publishers.

“All it literally had was seven words: Girl falls in love with a vampire. I said, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with a vampire. I get it. Let me read it,’” Mooradian recounted to The Republic.

He read through what is now Chapter 3. He put the manuscript down after Edward uses his superhuman abilities to save Bella from a car careening toward her in the icy school parking lot.

“I knew at that point that this was gold,” he said, but “I never pictured that this was a blockbuster movie at the time.”

“I was looking for a step stool, and I got a trampoline,” he said of his filmmaking career.

‘Twilight’ became a multibillion-dollar film franchise

Stephenie Meyer attends the world premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part II" at the Nokia Theatre on Nov. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.
Stephenie Meyer attends the world premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part II" at the Nokia Theatre on Nov. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.

Once Mooradian envisioned “Twilight” as a movie, he set out to find a studio executive who also saw “Twilight’s” promise.

He took the manuscript to MTV Films, a production studio at Paramount Pictures, which ultimately acquired the rights for optioning the story after a small bidding war. There, the script became a high-adrenaline drama with guns and boat chases. The executives' willingness to take creative liberties was due to “Twilight” not being published yet, let alone garnering millions of fans across the world.

While some books get true film adaptations, others serve as inspirations for scripts that can be nearly unrecognizable from the original material. The latter was the case for "Twilight's" first home.

Eventually, Paramount put “Twilight” into turnaround — making it available for other studios — after being unable to get preproduction off the ground, and the rights landed at Summit Entertainment. The studio developed the film true to Meyer’s original story with director Catherine Hardwicke at the helm; Mooradian stayed on as one of the producers and returned as an executive producer for each of the subsequent four films.

Summit had the upper hand over Paramount because by 2006 studio executives could see just how fervent of a fan base “Twilight” — and “New Moon,” which was published in the fall — was garnering.

Woman power: "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, star Kristen Stewart and author Stephenie Meyer on the set of "Twilight."
Woman power: "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, star Kristen Stewart and author Stephenie Meyer on the set of "Twilight."

“By the time Summit Entertainment had entered the equation, the question of whether this was going to work, it (had) kind of left the station,” Mooradian recalled. “I think the book's wild and unexpected success also paved a very clear path for where we needed to go.”

“It had become a phenomenon,” he said.

On Nov. 21, 2008, “Twilight” came out in U.S. theaters. But perhaps “exploded” is more accurate: The movie, which cost a modest $37 million to make, earned $70 million during opening weekend and went on to gross more than $407 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. By the final film, the studio had increased the budget more than threefold.

“(The “Twilight” movies) obviously blew the doors off, and all of a sudden (studios) realized, wow, you can make modestly budgeted movies that can play like a superhero movie,” Mooradian said.

They won't give up: Fans petitioned Target to restock Bella Swan's bedding

'‘Twilight’ is the reason why … there is a young adult genre’

Something that Mooradian, Hochhalter and Dach all have in common is their belief that “Twilight’s” success helped the young adult genre — both books and films — become the juggernaut it is today.

“‘Twilight’ is the reason why, at least in my opinion, there is a young adult genre,” Hochhalter said. “It just really built this bridge between adult readers and books that are marked as YA.”

The series arrived at just the right time, they said. The original “Harry Potter” book series — whose seven installments were published 1997-2007 — was winding down, and also adults were increasingly shopping in the young adult fiction section, according to Dach.

“I would say that what 'Harry Potter' started, (Meyer) finished,” Mooradian said. “The industry-wide scrutiny on YA has been intense and certainly never dulled ever since (‘Twilight’).”

Meyer’s concept was “genre-breaking” at the time, building upon the concept of the sexy vampire that Anne Rice had popularized decades prior. Meyer’s supernaturally beautiful immortal beings, unlike Rice's, are more similar to humans: They attend public high school in a small Pacific Northwest town and sustain themselves with animal blood.

“We’d never seen something like it,” Dach said.

‘Twilight’ hit the lottery with its worldwide success

The “Twilight” films defying all expectations to become a cultural phenomenon was a lightning-in-the-bottle kind of success, according to Mooradian.

“If you were to replay this scenario 100 more times, the other 99 times, no one reads the book. I might do a draft or two of the script, and the studio doesn't really see it … and the book comes back to me and nobody wants it, and it's over and it's done,” he said. “That's the typical reality.”

“So this version truly is the lottery version of (this scenario) in every possible respect,” Mooradian said.

The stars of the u0022Twilightu0022 films, Taylor Lautner (left), Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson pose with the books' author, Stephenie Meyer (second from right), at the world premiere of the final movie, u0022The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part II,u0022 at the Nokia Theatre on Nov. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.
The stars of the u0022Twilightu0022 films, Taylor Lautner (left), Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson pose with the books' author, Stephenie Meyer (second from right), at the world premiere of the final movie, u0022The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part II,u0022 at the Nokia Theatre on Nov. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.

“Twilight” didn’t just give the young adult genre more visibility and bring unimaginable success for Meyer and everyone involved in making the films. The books had young people interested in reading, and the movies showed that a storyline intended for a female audience could be a massive hit.

Ten years after the final film was released, the books and movies continue to find new fans and cultural relevance.

A new generation has discovered the vampire-human love story in what some have called a “Twilight” renaissance, with the help of its occasional availability on streaming services such as Netflix. There, all five movies immediately shot into the top 10 most-watched list when they were added to the catalogue in July 2021.

Also, “Midnight Sun” — a retelling of the first book from Edward’s perspective and a project that had previously been scrapped after a draft leaked in 2008 — reenergized fans when published in 2020.

In the 2000s and 2010s, “Twilight” fans coalesced on MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, fanfiction websites, online forums and blogs.

Now, they take to platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and — yes, still — Facebook to share their adoration for the saga or engage in nuanced conversations about the series’ messaging on class, race, sex, religion, healthy relationships and gender dynamics.

Some fans still make pilgrimages to the annual Forever Twilight in Forks festival in the namesake Washington town (the next one is Sept. 14-17, 2023).

There's no doubt that they are hungry for more — and nothing would make producer Greg Mooradian happier than Meyer revisiting the "Twilight" universe. And, as of 2020, Meyer hasn't ruled out diving back into the series eventually and exploring another character's perspective. However, she's expressed interest in doing "something brand new" first.

“God love (Meyer) for having the audacity to sit down and take her dream and put pen to paper and craft the novel she did,” Mooradian said.

Reach Entertainment Reporter KiMi Robinson at kimi.robinson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Twilight' look-back: From dream to multibillion-dollar phenomenon